Following the eight days of pre-season testing, which included some very inclement weather, accurate predictions for the 2018 season are almost impossible. However, the usual suspects have shown a little of what is to come and we could be in for a memorable season.
Mercedes – AMG Petronas Motorsport W09
The current champions once again set the benchmark for the number of laps and consequently highest mileage during pre-season testing.
With a total of 4 841km and 1 040 laps of what appeared to be trouble free testing, the W09 has apparently shed the “diva” characteristics of its predecessor and appears to be an easier platform for future development.
Retaining both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, the Brackley based team must start as firm favourites for a fifth consecutive constructors’ title and for Hamilton a fifth driver’s crown.
Bottas is confident that this year he will be stiffer competition for his team-mate and will be fighting hard to top the podium on a regular basis.
He faces a tough challenge as Hamilton still appears to be at the top of his game. Team Chief Toto Wolff believes it is going to be a far more difficult year for Mercedes with some very stiff competition.
Scuderia Ferrari SF71H
The team that has its sights set very definitely on ending the Mercedes domination, and in the early stages of last season looked on course to achieve that goal.
Unfortunately, the SF70H was outperformed by Mercedes in the second half of the year, not aided by Sebastian Vettel’s temperament on one or two occasions.
Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had a disappointing year despite visiting the podium seven times. In what could be his final year with the Scuderia, the Finn will want to go out with a flourish.
He could well suffer from the attentions of the Red Bulls, particularly his nemesis Max Verstappen.
The SF71H performed well during testing with the second highest number of laps at 929 and a distance of 4 324km, setting four fastest laps using medium, soft and hyper soft compound tyres. Maranello is looking good but once again the Silver Arrows may have a little more available than they have so far demonstrated.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14
Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen once again take the Milton Keynes contender into battle and must be feeling confident after a pre-season testing result that was a huge improvement over 2017.
Despite a fuel pump issue, minor technical glitches and a battery problem, which limited the track time, the team managed 783 laps and 3 544km.
Ricciardo set the fastest lap on day three of the second test period. Having dropped to third place behind Ferrari in the constructors’ championship, they will be hoping that the TAG Heuer engine will prove more reliable and develop more power than last season.
Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM11
At the time of writing, Sahara Force India has yet to announce the team’s new name.
Promises have been made for some time but are, as yet, no more than just promises. Promise is one aspect that seems to be missing from the new VJM11.
If testing is any indication, the Silverstone based team will face a real challenge from the midfield and will struggle to keep that fourth spot in the constructors’ championship.
Once again it is Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, who managed 3 309km over 711 laps during winter testing but with issues around the handling, apparently due to spin sensor problems.
That aside, the car is down on overall pace, but the team is confident that upgrades due to arrive before Melbourne will improve the situation.
Williams Martini Racing FW41
The last few seasons have not been kind to Williams and last year was no exception, once again finishing fifth on the log.
Canadian F1 rookie Lance Stroll partnered the experienced Filipe Massa, who came out of retirement after Valtteri Bottas joined Mercedes.
This year the team faces another tough one, although new team chief Paddy Lowe is confident fortunes will change. With Massa now back in his rocking chair, Stroll will be joined by Russian Sergey Sirotkin for 2018.
His lack of F1 experience will hopefully be countered by his talent as the Grove outfit definitely need a boost to ensure continued sponsor interest.
Main sponsor Martini will be leaving at the end of 2018. During testing, Robert Kubica’s input assisted Stroll and Sirotkin to reach a total of 3 812km over 819 laps. Performance did not set the world alight – whether due to the car or drivers is debatable – and far more pace is required for Williams to get back in the hunt.
Renault Sport Formula One Team R.S.18
With 795 laps and 3 700km compared to last year’s 597 laps and 2 779km, Renault must be feeling a lot happier. Having dropped Jolyon Palmer during 2017 and gaining Carlos Sainz Junior from Toro Rosso, things began to look up.
With Nico Hulkenberg as his partner, Renault have a solid driver line-up and if the team has found the power unit reliability that has evaded them for so long, it could be the turning point.
The only major fault reported was a gearbox failure on the final day of testing.
Pace was good during testing, albeit well off the leaders, but team chief Cyril Abiteboul is not aiming for the title this year.
He will be happy if he can at least halve the gap to the front of the field. Finishing sixth on 57 points in 2017 was a great improvement over the 9th place and 8 points of 2016
Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13
This must be the team willing to gamble the most. They have two young drivers with minimal F1 experience, plus a power plant that the world had basically written off as a complete disaster.
In a very late call, the Faenza team made the brave but obviously calculated decision to drop their year-old Ferrari power plant and take up the challenge of the much-maligned Honda unit. The gamble might just pay off as testing has proved that the Japanese giant is getting to grips with its previous issues.
Frenchman Pierre Gasly and New Zealander Brendon Hartley logged up an impressive 3 826km over 822 laps – the third highest figures behind Mercedes and Ferrari. Although the quickest time set by Gasly was almost 1.2 seconds slower than the fastest set by Vettel, the Honda engine did not suffer a failure.
That is a amazing, although it was reported that it was shut down early on the final day as a precaution. I do not expect miracles but it is certainly a team to watch.
Haas F1 Team VF-18
This could be the dark horse of 2018 and may well challenge for supremacy in the midfield pack. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen accumulated a total of 3 235 km over 695 laps with just an oil leak issue.
There did not appear to any further braking issues, something that Grosjean complained of since the team’s initial season in 2016. Interesting that his teammate has not experienced such problems – perhaps driving style? The American team retained the 8th place in the Constructors’ championship. This season could see them climbing the ladder.
McLaren F1 Team MCL33
With the team changing to the Renault power unit, it looked as though McLaren’s woes would, if not be over, at least be reduced. But it looked as though there was some sort of hex on the Woking team as the first week of winter testing delivered several blows.
A rear wheel was lost due to incorrect fitting and then an overheating situation led to extra cooling vents in the engine cover – shades of last year?
In the second week, the McLaren suffered battery and hydraulic problems, an oil leak resulting in a power unit change, two unexplained hours lost in the pits for Stoffel Vandoorne and a turbo failure to round it all off.
A little light in the darkness was Fernando Alonso’s impressive time just 0.6 seconds slower than Vettel’s fastest lap.
All the issues led to a total of just 599 laps and 2 788km – not the best result.
If reliability is there, Alonso will be the man to wring every ounce out of the MCL33.
Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team C37
Last year was a difficult one with new investors and the departure of team chief Monisha Kaltenborn.
The appointment of new chief Frédéric Vasseur and the backing and renaming of the team to that of a long gone but iconic name, Alfa Romeo, is set to create a new era for the Hinwill team.
Retaining Swede Marcus Ericsson, partnered by 20-year-old Charles Leclerc from Monaco, the team is hoping to move up the championship tables.
Unfortunately, lap times are way off the pace, despite using the latest generation Ferrari power unit. It would appear to be an issue of chassis dynamics rather than lack of power.
The multiple spins were while the car was in the hands of rookie Leclerc, but the C37 is still lacking in both power and handling.
Completing 786 laps and a total mileage of 3 658km is impressive, but Sauber have a long way to go to play any significant role in 2018.